Czeslaw Niemen: Niemen Vol. 2 (1972)
There is no doubt about it that Czeslaw Niemen was simply one of the biggest pop icons during communist-era Poland. What’s more surprising was how the government even allowed this music to be made there. West of the Iron Curtain and in North America, we are accustomed to many different record labels (Warner Bros., Atlantic, Polydor, CBS, RCA, etc.), all competing against each other. In the Eastern Bloc, during the communist era, each country had their state ran label, sometimes more than one, just to make it appear they competition, like Opus and Panton in Czechoslovakia, Amiga in East Germany, Jugoton and RTB in Yugoslavia, Electrecord in Romania, Pepita (and later Start) in Hungary, and in Poland you had Muza. These were official state-ran labels where all sorts of music that made it through the censors got released (I am certain in those countries, one could get in trouble for owning an album not released by one of those state-ran labels, for example, a British pressing of a Rolling Stones album released on Decca). It’s little surprise that Czeslaw Niemen’s albums would be released on the Muza label, which had a habit of releasing their LPs on the most ridiculously flimsy cover you can imagine (just one step better than paper).
In 1972, Niemen formed a band called Niemen, consisting of himself, of course, on vocals and keyboards, Greek ex-patriate Apostolis Anthimus on guitar, Andrzej Przybielski on trumpet, Helmut Nadolski on bass and additional vocals, Jerzy Piotrowski on drums, and Josef Skrzek on bass, piano, organ, and vocals. If the names Skrzek, Anthimus, and Piotrowski sound familiar, well they embarked on their own as SBB, who themselves was a force to reckon with in prog and fusion circles (and was lucky to record the occasional English language album in West Germany, just like Hungary’s Omega had). By this point he had abandoned the beat/pop sound of the late ’60s for the new emergining progressive rock sound. Instead of resorting to conventional pop structures, he was now recording extended compositions. His raspy voice is an acquired taste, but it’s not too far off to liken him to a Polish Joe Cocker, except Joe Cocker never went prog rock. Much of the music here is dominated by Czeslaw’s Hammond organ playing.
This out of the way: I have not heard Niemen Vol. 1, only Niemen Vol. 2, so I am unable to comment on the other half, but since it was by the same band and recorded the same time, the music should be the same. You can still hear some pop and soul influences surface still, like on the opening cut, “Marionetki”. The next one is the extended “Piosenka Dla Zmarłej”, it has some rather experimental passages, but a lot of his unmistakable voice, and great organ passages. The music also has some jazz tendencies, probably because of the presence of trumpet. “Z Pierwszych Ważniejszych Odkryc” seems to let the the guitar take center place with some nice jams. “Ptaszek” is a very short, but hilarious piece showing a sense of humor, which then closes back to more typical Niemen fashion with “Com Uczynił” which I think the real highlight here is that organ solo. OK, so the production of this album isn’t that great, but much of the Eastern Bloc countries never did benefit from good production, but it’s still amazing how such music was allowed in during that era, but it’s true. Nice music, and a great way to see how things were like, musically east of the Iron Curtain in the ’70s.
– Czeslaw Niemen / organ, piano, vocals
– Apostolis Anthimos / guitar
– Andrzej Przybielski / trumpet
– Helmut Nadolski / bass, vocals
– Jerzy Piotrowski / drums
– Jozef Skrzek / bass, piano, organ, vocals
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